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Tsunamis: How nature keeps surprising scientists

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Elena Suleimani's Photo
Elena Suleimani
Research Analyst

The two shocking tsunami disasters of the 21st century have forever changed the definition of the word "tsunami." Its meaning was elevated from just an infrequent though potentially dangerous natural phenomenon to one capable of inflicting hundreds of thousands of fatalities and reaching every coastline on Earth. While the unrealized geophysical hazard was the major reason for the absence of a tsunami warning system and tsunami education in the Indian Ocean region and, as a result, the incomprehensible number of fatalities in 2004, the major cause of the high casualty rate in the 2011 Tohoku tsunami was failure to evacuate. The shift in paradigm caused by the tragic lessons learned from these recent catastrophic tsunamis is now used to reduce the potential damage and fatalities from future disasters.

Elena Suleimani holds a BS degree in radiophysics and electronics from the Gorky State University, Russia, a MS in Physical Oceanography from the University of Alaska Fairbanks, and PhD in geophysics from the University of Alaska Fairbanks. She has studied nonlinear dynamics of tsunami waves at the Institute of Applied Physics of the Russian Academy of Sciences, and later numerical modeling of tsunami waves at the Institute of Marine Sciences at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Elena is currently at the Geophysical Institute in Fairbanks and is working on tsunami inundation mapping for Alaska coastal communities.